Veterans Welcomed, Honored and Thanked at TKHS program

It was the fifth year the high school has opened the doors to the community to join in the special recognition of veterans. And after the program, several students took a moment to show their respect, shaking hands and thanking veterans, before heading back to high school classes.

Although the bleachers were overflowing with students, family and community members, there was hardly a sound murmured throughout the hour-long program. A special kind of quiet blanketed the gym as a moment of silence was observed in honor of Veterans Day.

Bob Bender, a 1954 TK graduate, was the honored speaker and took the stage as the band played "Anchors Aweigh" in honor of his service in the Navy. Bender joined the Navy in 1959 and became a pilot. After his active duty, he continued in the reserves.

"My service spanned part of five decades," said Bender who joined in 1959 and continued serving until retiring in the early 90s.

"I will probably get a bit emotional," he warned the audience as he spoke about the many people who lost their lives in World War I and World War II. He recently visited Normandy and walked the beaches where the June 1944 invasions took place and so many lost their lives.

"In the first hour of those landings, the U.S. troops suffered 90 percent casualties. Nine out of 10 soldiers were either killed or wounded, yet they continued on. I cannot imagine the courage, bravery and strength of those men," said Bender.

He told the students the events of Sept. 11, 2001 clearly and distinctly marked the U.S. entrance  into the ongoing war on terrorism as clearly as Pearl Harbor marked the U.S. involvement in World War II.

"The ultimate cause is freedom. That's what all these people here today have done," he said gesturing to the veterans sitting near him. "I thank you for remembering and honoring veterans."

Then Bender turned to the veterans seated on the gym floor and put on his Navy hat. "I salute each and every one of you," he said giving a formal salute to them all.

The day also honored veteran Walt Eavey, who will be the honored veteran for the 2016 Memorial Day parade in Middleville and will be sent on the Honor Flight. Eavey is a 1952 graduate of TK and served in the U.S. Army.

"Two little words mean a lot," he told the students. "Thank you."

Several students participated in the program including Emma Crabtree who welcomed the guests, Nick Losey reading "What Veterans Day Means to Me," Samuel Ogrodzinski reading the "MIA POW Table," and "I am an American" read by Jaymee Kars.

The high school symphonic band and the honors choir provided inspiring and patriotic music. Kylie Adams read "It is the Soldier," and Alex Blair and Haley DeHaan read "The Bravest Man I Know/Veterans Day." Teagen Scheltema finished up the program with  a reading called "Forgotten Things."

Veterans and their families were then treated to lunch served by students in the athletic commons.